AHDB Horticulture Contaminants Update


AHDB Horticulture Contaminants Update

On 21 December 2015, AHDB Horticulture published its inaugural 'Contaminants Update'.

‘Contaminants’ are residues found on edible produce/products, that do not arise from the use of Plant Protection Products (PPPs). It is important that you read these updates because discussions which impact on the Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) permitted on food are ongoing at EU level. We aim to keep you updated on these discussions as they progress and decisions made as these may impact on your businesses.


Statutory MRL – 0.01mg/kg
Nov 2015 Proposed Levels: click here to download.
AHDB Horticulture's response to the European Commission November 2015 chlorate proposals can be found by clicking on this link. The EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals Food & Feed (SCOPAFF – Pesticide Residues section) met on 30 November and 1 December 2015, after we had submitted our response.  We are informed that a number of concerns were raised by Member States at the SCOPAFF meeting regarding the proposed chlorate MRLs including that:
  • the proposed MRLs for some foods were likely to be significantly below residues currently found;
  • if MRLs were implemented as proposed then there would be exceedances disrupting food trade;
  • the costs to trade of adjusting practices to comply with the MRLs proposed would be considerable;
  • the setting of MRLs as proposed forces trade to apply new, possibly unproven sanitation practices, which could increase the risk of microbial contamination;
  • further work is needed to properly assess the effect the proposal will have on water treatment and sanitation methods and;
  • a full impact assessment was required before proceeding to vote on the proposals. 

SCOPAFF discussions led to a call for more data and the changing of the DG SANTE chlorate MRL proposal’s document from a ‘proposed’ to a ‘working draft’, implying that there would be no voting on the proposed MRLs in early 2016 (as originally planned). This means that the proposed MRLs can change subject to further data & views submitted by stakeholders. The Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) asked the food industry for more data. AHDB Horticulture funded further data collection in December & January 2016, focussing on individual grower businesses. We have now submitted this additional data to the FSA and the HSE, as the European Commission had requested that all chlorate data be submitted in the correct format by the 31 March 2016. 
We continue to urge growers to monitor for contaminants in produce/product and to submit the data to the HSE, because the European Commission hasn't provided timelines on when they will publish the revised chlorate MRL proposals. When they do publish a revision of the proposals, the document will be put out for industry consultation and further data can be submitted during this consultation phase.  The FSA and the HSE are very keen to collect more chlorate data, particularly on produce where they have limited data - click on this link.
AHDB Horticulture has set aside funds for a review on current chlorine-based water treatment systems and their chlorate loading potentials. We also aim to find out why UK results are variable between and within the different systems. Any practical work that will be undertaken will be based on the review findings. We hope that MRLs will be raised across the crops going forwards; if this happens then there may not be need for the practical work. We will keep you updated on progress.

*There are no statutory MRLs for perchlorate but there are reference values which were set by the Commission and endorsed by the Standing Committee in March and June 2015. Because perchlorate is an environmental contaminant the regulatory authority is the FSA and not CRD. The reference values for the different produce can be found on page three of  this document. These values have no legal status. Any action for food exceeding these levels is at the discretion of individual Member States.

David Mortimer of the FSA has provided the following update:
Perchlorate is not currently regulated in the EU. Despite challenges from a number of Member States, it is not and never has been used as a Plant Protection Product and is therefore not subject to the default MRL in 396/2005. It is thought to enter the food chain mainly through fertilisers, in some of which it can occur naturally. As perchlorate is of health concern it is being monitored with the possibility that a limit will eventually be set, probably under Contaminants legislation. In the meantime, enforcement action can in principle be taken if a risk assessment indicates a concern for health.’
The FSA monitored for perchlorate in fruits and vegetables from November 2013 to December 2015. The levels they found have not been disclosed. Perchlorate levels in food will be considered again by the Commission in the second half of 2016. Growers should monitor produce/product for both chlorate and perchlorate. Samples should be sent to UKAS accredited laboratories for both chlorate and perchlorate testing because as an example, chlorate testing on its own costs £75 per sample at the lab SAL (there may be other UKAS accredited labs offering this service) but if growers ask for chlorate and perchlorate testing to be done on the one sample then it goes up by £10, to £85,  because both contaminants can be quantified at the end of the same analytical method.  Separate chlorate/perchlorate testing would cost £75 + £75 (£150) at SAL. Unfortunately, AHDB Horticulture will no longer fund chlorate and perchlorate testing.

Statutory MRL – 2mg/kg
MRLs are set  to reflect  the use of the PPP Fosetyl Al, with the residue definition, incorporating phosphonate residues, comprising the parent compound fosetyl, the degradation product phosphorous acid and their salts. Phosphonate residue also arises as a consequence of the application of foliar fertiliser products containing phosphonates i.e. phosphites. Member States have been monitoring for phosphonate and found levels above the statutory MRL. Because of this temporary MRLs were set for produce which didn’t have permanent MRLs but only until 31 December 2015. From the 1 January 2016, with the exception of tree nuts, all temporary MRLs reverted back to the LOD at 2 mg/kg. The following produce/products are affected: apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, stone fruit (others), blackberries, dewberries, raspberries, cane fruit (others), blueberries, currants, gooseberries, figs, kumquats, persimmon, passion fruit, papaya, pomegranate, garlic, beans (with pods), beans (without pods), peas (with pods), peas (without pods) and asparagus.
All other foods with substantive MRLs set on a permanent basis (e.g. lettuce set at 75mg/kg) remain in place.
Concern has been raised as regards the statutory MRL that is set for phosphonate by growers of affected crops. CRD has advised us to contact the Commission directly to find out if we can generate phosphonate residues data from the use of fertiliser products, as evidence for the MRL to be raised.  CRD would not be involved in this, as they are set up for PPP regulation, and not for fertilisers but they have indicated that if the Commission agrees, then phosphonate residues data generation would need to be similar to that done for EAMU submissions. They made it clear that there is no guarantee that this approach will work.
Grace Choto
Research & KE Manager - Vegetables